This may get a rise out of some people but it's not meant too. This is just my experience and why film is dead as a tool for me. I will always keep a roll around for fun but never have high expectations again.
(Disclaimer: For those who shoot MF or larger film for landscape, art & other things: I get it, and I agree it is a viable medium.)
This spring I decided to try a personal project of capturing friends and family in retro style film and started picking up old cameras and film. I have not shot film as a primary tool for 5 years now and not at all for 3 years.
Cameras: Pentax Super ME, 2 FE2-s, FG20, Voigtlander Bessa R2, Polaroid Land camera (rainbow), Old taped up Lomo, Olympus IS20 and a couple of B&W instant cameras. I also bought a Fuji X100 and took that along.
Lenses; Multiple 50mm's, 24mm, 35mm, 17mm, and the occasional Leica 90mm I just picked up a few weeks ago. F4 was the slowest lens.
For film I picked up all different kinds; Ilford HP5 (400), Ilford 3200, TMax (400), Fuji Neopan (400), Fuji c-41 (200,400,800), Kokdak CN400, Impossible project SX-70 (Color & Silver grain), a few others thrown in there randomly, Fuji-chrome, Portra, etc. and even some outdated Kodak film from my parents. In all, a total of about 30 rolls/ packets and approximately 700 images. I have used many others in the past but these are easily obtainable and in stock from a local shop. All were processed and scanned at 3,000 dpi height, by my local shop (They did a very good job and none were sent out).
My main three goals for this project;
1) I thought this would be a fun project to pull out my old cameras and to make a neat book for my friends and I.
2) Always looked at getting an old Leica (M3-M4) film camera and wanted to get a feel for a rangefinder (Bessa R2) and see if I would actually use one.
3) This would be a fun project to pull out my old cameras and to make a neat book for my friends and I.
Rolls/packets of film - around 20 35mm, 10 Impossible project
Approximate final cost of Film & developing: $350+
Total images: 700 (give or take a few)
Usable images: 200
Good images: 25
Book images: 10 (I'm very picky)
Great Images: 5
Images added to my personal portfolio: 2
<4% success rate of images.
About 200 black or "pocket" exposures (A thread on my FE2 addressed that), about 100 missed exposures, 200 bad focus (damn Jupiter is back focused - need to shim or sell it), about another 50 images were just bad.
Color casts, grain, worse grain, Even worse grain, low contrast, much more time to edit, costly, time to develop, the stuck at An ISO, all added to my frustration for this project and became the crutch that no longer could hold any weight.
Remember, this was suppose to be fun (but good) snap-shots, no tripods, no lighting, etc.
Sooooo ... my result.
Book of film images = FAIL.
Desire to get a Leica M3/M4 = Not there.
Fun = achieved.
1) One understated thing about film is that it forces you to slow down which did flow into my other work and helped it become better. This really was a great positive.
2) If I buy a Leica, it will be for pure desire to collect one and just to have one, but I no longer try to justify it as a real tool FOR ME. I now desire a M7 with auto. That is just how I roll. Unfortunately the roll of bills in my pocket is no ware close to the $2500+ needed to, "just have" a M7.
3) Learned to no longer question if digital is better for me.
4) I had fun with my old film cameras.
The film VS digital discussions anymore seem to focus on sharpness for huge sizes, dynamic range, color, etc. and focus on commercial, high-end landscape or artistic photos. This is not the vast majority of people's reality and ignores what most people take photos of. In other words, most arguments do not take the "Whole-istic" world into view and only focus on very small specific details where film is better. On a whole, the platform on which capturing images digitally, have surpassed films ability to outweigh digital to such an extent, that it even surprised me.
In my mind, the quality of an image is not found by pixel peeping, but in it's composition, color/contrast, impact and the ability to readily & simply to achieve it. If things start to creep in that take away from the "image" because of the medium I'm using, and it can be changed, I don't find that medium to be viable anymore. That is what I found.
Many try to trivialize the reality of life (for average people - not artists/ or commercial):
- 99% of photos will never be printed, those that are, rarely will be larger than 8" on any side. This negates much of the arguments for film.
- Film is expensive again - almost $10 a roll to buy and develop c-41 and $16-20 for print film. I probably spent closer to $350 on film in 90 days for a "just for fun" project. That is a 1/4 of my way to a 24-120mm F/4 or 16-35mm VR lens.
- Yanking a roll of film after just two shots to put in high saturation or a different ISO is not remotely piratical. It is just a waste of money and costs the same either way.
- One Single ISO sucks. No seriously it really does suck - some of us (including I) forgot how bad it sucks. I do not need to pull or push my digital files 3 stops. The exposure was right and the auto ISO picked 800 and my image is sharp. Yea digital!
- Saturation of color - sorry but other than a couple select print films, it is not there and it is really hard to pull a standard c-41 to a Velva it in post. And it really didn't look the way I wanted it too.
- Instant correction - enough said.
When it came down to it, all of the "other" drawbacks of film became the hindrance to my whole project. Yes dealing with the one offs here and there at that moment was not huge. It is when I package the project as a whole, the sum of it's parts gave me a barely workable result and these little nuances became a critical mass that could not be overlooked. I was hoping for about 60 good photos to fill 10-20 pages - I got realistically a couple of dozen.
My experience this summer has pushed me away from film forever as a tool but has reminded me to shoot a roll here and there to keep my "Eyes focused". In all, I found color film kind of bla, B&W not bad but not any better than digital and both above 200 too grainy for my taste, which effected the image quality as it started to take away from even strong compositions. It was very fun, learning experience on it's own that I really enjoyed doing - but then came the post work that depressed me. The realization that I will not be shooting film for a long while and the answer to friends asking if film in my eyes is dead I will say yes - with a few exceptions, has filled my thoughts for the last few weeks.
As I said above, I have not worked with film for 5 years. Those who use film often will probably find it more rewarding than I, which is great. I now look at film like building a bench myself vs buying one. Yes I did that once 20 years ago, yes I can do it again, yes it will look like a 5 year old built it. Yes there are others who are better than me, and yes, I will buy it from them. Film and wood work is a viable option for some, just not me.
In the end, I am creating a book. Thankfully I did take my D300 & Fuji x100 at times which has proved that it has surpassed 35mm film for what I want to do. I even got a few better stylistic pictures from my Iphone than some of the film.
Suum cuique. (To each his own)
A Few of the good images I gathered
Nikon FE2 - Kodak T-max 400 - 50mm 1.8
Ilford HP5 Iso 400 - Bessa R2 - Jupiter 8 lens
Fuji X100 - Iso 6400
Fuji X100 - Iso 3200